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Question: My girlfriend and I have been arguing about the idea of unconditional love. She thinks it is possible and something we should work towards and I think there is no such thing. What do you think?

Answer: What is this thing called unconditional love?  I have to say that when the expectation is voiced in a counselling session, I am pretty sure that there is trouble ahead. When we consider all of the conditions that are necessary in order to fall in love (i.e. looks, temperament, interests, values, ambition, humour etc.etc.), it’s hard to imagine that they could all just fade away once love is professed. At the risk of sounding cynical, the only place that I can imagine unconditional love existing is in the early months of a parent’s love for an infant. And even there, it is probably driven by some evolutionary imperative to launch one’s genes safely into the next generation.

I don’t know what level of analysis you and your girlfriend have brought to the subject but here are a few thoughts.

  • First of all, the person requesting unconditional love (and it is almost always a female) is in a duplicitous position from the get go since by the very nature of the request, they are identifying themselves as unhappy with the relationship as it is.


  • Secondly, the request is usually an emotional plea and speaks to me of insecurity. What has to be going on in the mind of an individual to make such a request? I suspect that somewhere in the mix, probably in their family experience, they felt unloved or on the outside of things -- or at least somehow not important enough. This unresolved emotional attachment in family, evolves into a longing for a complete love and an expectation that their partner should be able to deliver this. Even if their partner could do this (and they can’t!), it would not assuage the insecurity. Insecurity is tempered from within, not through adulation from without.


  • Thirdly, and most importantly, is the unfortunate nature of the concept itself. The phrase has been mentioned in religious, philosophical and even political discussion but it is used most frequently in addressing expectations in a primary relationship. In the request for unconditional love, the plaintive diminishes the importance of their own behaviour by accusing the other of being derelict in their duty to love. The loss here should be obvious.  One of the biggest advantages in being part of a couple is the opportunity to work on your own maturity in the face of a critical partner. If you expect love without condition you are less likely to address you own stuff.

A woman asking for unconditional love is like a man asking for unconditional sex. The expectation is unreasonable and ends in frustration. Most things come with conditions attached and love is no exception. To receive love you need to be lovable, and being lovable long-term requires a whole lot of maturity. If you and your girlfriend put your energy to work on that, you will have fewer disappointments.

Margaret Anne Speak, M.A., C.C.C. works with couples, individuals, and families from a Bowen Family Systems perspective at Family Services of the North Shore. Questions? Write This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 604-988-5281.